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Presidents Play Key Role in Spreading Diversity in College Coaching Ranks


University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher has hired a football coach, men’s basketball coach and women’s basketball coach in the past 16 months. What she wanted in candidates couldn’t have been clearer.

“I think the athletic director knew not even to bring the pool to me until it was representative,” Zimpher said Friday during a discussion on diversity at the NCAA convention.

“You’re not going to get anywhere unless you can reflect our leadership. … Leadership matters, and presidential leadership in choosing the athletic leadership can make all the difference.”

NCAA president Myles Brand has made no secret of his determination to get football sidelines and athletic administrators to look more like the rest of the country, and he used his position Friday to focus the second day of the NCAA convention on the topic of diversity.

An override vote on eliminating text messaging by coaches to recruits will come Saturday, and athletes had the chance Friday to work on a frame for a Habitat for Humanity house.

But the convention’s second day started with a 3 1/2-hour symposium on helping women of color advance into administration, coaching and athletic fields.

Then they moved to lunch where Brand served as moderator for a panel discussion on diversity with Zimpher; Gene Smith, the Ohio State athletic director who is Black; and William Rhoden, sports writer for The New York Times.

Brand asked if college officials are doing as well as they can. But he talked to The Associated Press last month about his frustration over slow progress, especially in college football, which has only six Black coaches and two other minorities for a total of eight out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision.

“Quality people available are not getting a chance,” Brand said.

Using the need for a quick hire to avoid recruiting losses is an excuse to Smith.

A big step is ensuring that minority coaches at least get interviews, and Smith called it an injustice when such candidates don’t even get into the room to present themselves. He agreed that presidents can make the difference.

“They are the ones that need to send that message and make sure their athletic directors follow through on that commitment,” Smith said.

Zimpher called it using the presidential whip.

“Shame on us if we don’t use it,” she said.

“NCAA presidential leadership matters, and I’m a pretty big fan of that concept. I think presidents of universities are obliged to articulate a vision that incorporates the importance of athletics in building culture on our campuses and the importance of diversity in our students.”

Smith counts himself among eight Black athletic directors in Division I-A, now the FBS.

“While we’re not where we need to be, we’re on the right trajectory,” he said.

Teresa Phillips, athletic director at Tennessee State in Nashville, welcomed people to the morning symposium on women of color in college athletics Friday morning. She said that while they had taken a hammer to the glass ceiling, jagged edges remain.

Dene Rivera-Barracato, assistant athletic director at Adelphi, was the only Hispanic on her team. Now she often has athletes stopping by her office to have someone to speak Spanish with, even if her grasp of the language isn’t as strong as she’d like.

She also reminded the audience that the largest jump in minorities was for Hispanics in the 2000 census.

“The number’s only going to continue to grow,” she said.

The Rutgers-Don Imus incident in April 2007 was cited by ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele on the challenges women minorities face as athletes, and she said it scared her that some people do agree with Imus.

Steele encouraged athletes to work on their grammar, take English and writing classes to improve their skills.

While Title IX has boosted female participation in athletics, Rutgers professor Emmett Gill said it hasn’t translated into better access for Black athletes in sports other than basketball and track. He suggested the NCAA develop prep sports academies for Black girls and that administrators and coaches send their athletes into Black communities and to middle schools to talk to children.

“The time for justice is now,” he said.

Judy Sweet, a former senior vice president with the NCAA, told them to reach out to other women and use them as a support system. She also encouraged talking.

“It can’t end here, so when you leave try to identify ways that you can share the information whether it be within your conference, within your region, with the associations that you belong to,” she said. “There are others you can work with so you don’t feel isolated, so you can get help and give help.”

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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics